Sensors: the gateway to energy efficiency

4 mins read

As the cost-of-living continues to soar, the need for energy efficiencies bites across both consumers and industry.

Consequently, this is creating huge demand for sensors. Research by Allied Market Research in its ‘Sensor Market Outlook – 2020’ valued the market at over $167 billion in 2019 and projected it to reach $346 billion by 2028, registering a CAGR of 8.9% from 2021 to 2028.

Health is another area that is benefitting from sensors and will continue to do so in the future, as they become ever more sophisticated. According to an article that appeared in Health IT Analytics, in April this year, for example, highlighted the ability of wearable sensors that could detect Covid. While reviewing strategies for detecting and managing Covid, the study found that wearable sensors monitoring heart rate, skin temperature, and respiratory rate showed promise as they looked to track pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic infections and decrease Covid’s spread.

However, it’s the desired increase in energy efficiency across a wide spectrum of industries, smart cities, and environments such as schools and hospitals that’s the key driver in this space.

This requirement is not necessarily new, but when coupled with the current cost of living crisis, it reinforces the importance of being ever more proactive in terms of monitoring our environments intelligently and making best use of both predictive and preventative maintenance, at home and in the workplace.

Data monitoring

Sensors are at the heart of this proactivity and will continue to play an increasing role in everyday life, whether in or out of our homes. Monitoring data from sensors already contributes towards a plethora of areas such as energy efficiency, maintenance, air quality, thermal comfort in offices, safety, refrigeration, transportation and far more. Applications proliferate as potential users discover that an installation can be relatively simple, with just a few sensors, a gateway and application software connecting to the cloud.

For public areas like hospitals, gyms, libraries and schools, as well as monitoring CO2 emissions, oxygen levels, humidity and temperature, interest is increasing in Covid or bacterial monitoring systems to pick up the unwelcome infections themselves, as well as identifying the conditions likely to become a breeding ground for them.

Measures taken now are likely to be in line with new regulations coming into schools and other educational environments, and applicable to any public areas constantly in use and where the occupants are therefore changing regularly. There is more appetite now for adhering to air quality guidelines such as BB101. The view is that more regulations will become mandatory rather than advisory and so we’re seeing more interest in air quality monitoring technologies from both integrators and OEMs.

Elsewhere, Solid State has been working with an HVAC company supplying technology to monitor radiators. As residue builds up inside these radiators, the resulting heat degradation reduces the system efficiency. Our customer produces a magnetic liquid that is added to the water in the radiators and is fed round the radiator system to stop silting and furring. The heat output is continuously monitored to ensure that the system is functioning at the best possible efficiency.

This is particularly important in social housing as providers have a duty of care towards tenant families, making sure their living conditions are comfortable and safe. Providers want to have the ability to see problems coming, so they can be pre-emptive and fix anything not working correctly before people have to make call outs when things are not running efficiently, or worse, living conditions deteriorate to an unacceptable degree and residents become sick. Call outs are expensive, so pre-empting issues and being able to work over the internet makes the cost more viable. If these systems and processes don’t run efficiently, costs could multiply because tenants are turning up the heat and providers are having to send out maintenance teams.

Currently, it appears that something has fundamentally changed in terms of social housing around the building management perspective. It is now driven not only by Government but also by social media. People will start to complain online if their landlords are not doing what they should be doing in terms of maintenance for example, and the risk of this unwelcome visibility is accelerating the drive towards better solutions.

It’s clear that if you want to be able to implement that preventative maintenance approach, the fundamental element is the sensors. Every single aspect of it relates back to acquiring data from the target building via sensors. Of course, it’s then equally as vital to gather the data, process it (either at the edge or centrally) and then send the relevant communications out to the right people at the right time. You can install 100 sensors, but they won’t be effective unless they are talking to a central point of some kind.

Ease of deployment

Many sensors available today are designed to be easy to deploy wherever they are required. Installed sensors then generally communicate wirelessly back to a gateway. In an IoT system, ultimately a version of the data will need to reach the cloud; this could be via a secure control room, server or wherever the web interface is located. An IoT cloud platform enables networks of connected devices in multiple locations to access central infrastructure, servers and storage. We provide the sensors, the gateways, cellular routers and IoT cloud platforms and can help customers to get systems up and running surprisingly rapidly.

Sensors are already a crucial part of everyday life - but what are we actually doing with the data they provide once we’ve got it? Inevitably, monetisation is a driver in the development of many systems – generally by using the data to reduce costs. For example, if a company is undertaking preventative online maintenance via a system of sensors, then by reducing the number of times engineers need to be sent out, and pre-empting and fixing problems in a timely manner before they cause damage or downtime, significant cost savings can be realised - essentially monetising the data. Remote generation of renewable energy is an area particularly benefitting from this approach. Profitability is being impacted in vertical farming, where we are seeing multiple sensor types deployed to monitor soil conditions, as well as atmospheric parameters, improving growth rates.

Two-way systems

A trend we are anticipating is the increasing use of two-way sensor systems. We are working with companies in the connected care home sector, addressing the wellbeing of vulnerable residents. This project involves the use of two-way sensors that include a speaker.  If an alert is triggered by the data, remote healthcare professionals can attempt to speak to the resident, and if they get no response, help could be sent to the accommodation quickly to ascertain their wellbeing. Another big evolving market going forward for us is smart meters. At some point, it is likely that we will have smart meters in every home, with the potential to communicate additional data to impact efficiencies.

Sensors are undoubtedly vital to so much that we take for granted and are enabling exciting new changes in the way we live our lives. Each application is different – but the Holy Grail is making sure that everything is connected properly, that the right data is gathered and communicated appropriately, and that ultimately, the data is providing useful and potentially lucrative information.

Author details: John Fitzpatrick, Embedded Solutions Product Manager, Solid State Supplies